Almost two years ago, I sent out an invitation to most everyone I knew inviting them to pitch in and help a community here in Ecuador that had experienced a natural disaster. Landslides from rains had destroyed homes and had put the whole future of the village in jeopardy. Most of the people I had sent the invitation to were people who had invited me to their homes to eat at one point or another. And there were almost 40 people who responded to raise fourteen thousand dollars and help rebuild the homes. The village continues to this day after hanging on by a thread, in large part to the acts of generosity by so many people. It was a truly special experience.
And yet there were some people who, just weeks before, had invited me feverishly to eat with them, and gave no response whatsoever to my invitation. Nothing, not even a simple reply, even though I’m sure they received the invitation. I thought, they do not want to accept my dinner invitations. What do I mean by that?
The other day, a group of some of the local people with their relatives were taking a drive out to a river for an outing of swimming and cookout. They invited me along, and after a bit it was determined that I was one of only three people who could drive, so I got the driver’s seat for the pickup truck.
Well, as were driving along, a man in his sixties or so passed us going the other way on his motorbike (the most common mode of transportation), and as he passed us on the windy, dirt road, he took a spill. As I slowed down and came to a stop, another large truck pulled up behind me, closer to where the man was. As I was waiting to see if the man was ok as he slowly got up, the voices started in the car: let’s go, keep going, forget about him, we’re going to be late. As I waited longer to see if the guy could get his bike up, weighing whether the man needed help, the voices intensified. Let’s go, we’re going to miss the others and get lost, you can get blamed if the police come, etc., etc.
These are people who have invited me to their home to eat. But they don’t seem interested yet in coming to mine. What I mean by all of this is this.
See, I don’t have a house to invite people over to. I don’t have a wife and kids and a made-up home. I don’t even have an oven in my apartment back in Boston or here in Ecuador, and not even a fridge here. I don’t have great cooking skills, and I don’t have cabinets filled with ingredients and spices. I can’t cook up a meal with all the hospitality. I just can’t. You know what my meal is? You know what my sit-down hospitality is? It’s when you join with me in making a little sacrifice and lifting up the low. It’s when you accept my invitation to generosity to the poor, the people at the bottom. It’s when you join me in Jesus’ mission, because that’s his big sit-down dinner. When you stop and help a hurt person with me, that’s a cut of the world’s best filet mignon steak. When you chip in with a bit of money for someone who has suffered a natural disaster, that’s the twin lobster all-you-can-eat special. When you come with me to visit sick people and bring good news, that’s a bottle of vintage Sangiovese wine. When you look into the eyes of a person who has made nothing but trouble for others all their life and give them the deep respect they’ve never actually gotten in their life, that’s the scalloped potatoes with broccoli and cheese sauce. When you share in coming to kids so poor that they have never known their own value and dignity, that’s the giant Recess Peanut Butter Cup, vanilla ice-cream, hot-chocolate sauce, topped with whipped cream and a cherry dessert.
Because the whole world is God’s house, and His dinner table is the mission of Jesus: lifting up the lowly. When we get invited to that, we get invited to the big banquet. That’s what I can invite you to.
Do you remember in John’s Gospel, Jesus is sitting by a well talking to a woman when the disciples return from food shopping. They say, you have to eat! He says, I have food that you don’t know about. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me. Jesus just got done lifting up a wounded woman with a checkered past who had come to the well. He just had his Capitol Grille five-star sit-down meal with all the stops pulled out. He’s not hungry after that.
At the last supper, Jesus is going to say “take and eat” when he hands out the bread and wine that has become his body and blood. He’s not just talking about a little bit of bread and wine. He is talking about the cross he’s about to embrace: Jesus is going to sacrifice himself so all of us can be lifted up into eternal life. We’re talking billions of people. That’s the Big Banquet.
When we make a sacrifice to lift up the low, we are accepting the invitation to God’s dinner table. Jesus never had a house like ours with a dinner table to come and sit at. But when we follow him, we are going to be constantly fed. Filet Mignon. Flounder and Swordfish steak. Whatever is your favorite, he’s got it and then some.
You’re invited to the Big Banquet.
“My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and accomplish his work.” (Jn 4:34)